I think the great myths were stories people told in attempts to explain human nature to ourselves, before we had philosophy, science, and fMRI machines. Each of these Gods are symbols with multiple levels of meaning, but I like to tie psychological insights I find into the God that seems to fit it.
This post is about attention and how it can grab us and redirect us. This reminds me of Hermes. He is the winged messenger of the Gods. I think the “Gods” are inside our heads, and our interest is Hermes, as the messenger, trying to show our conscious mind where the Gods would like us to go. This post is a scientific exploration into this function of Hermes, and how meditation improves it.
What is “Orienting?”
There is a phenomenon cognitive psychologists call “orienting.” It happens when your subconscious mind detects something it thinks would be of interest to the conscious mind, which leads to your awareness being drawn away from what you’re doing towards this potentially interesting thing.
The classic example is what is called “The Cocktail Party Effect.” You’re at a party with a lot of noise. You’re leaning in close enough to taste the alcohol Jen has been drinking, but you can barely hear her tell you about how her friend was rude to her. Then, like Moses splitting the sea, you hear someone say your name 15 feet away.
This is orienting, and we should unpack it for a moment to see how amazing this is.
Cognitive scientists tend to split consciousness into three parts. You have your conscious mind, the thing in your awareness that you are using to process these words. Then you have your subconscious mind. This is a complicated part of consciousness which could divided into its own categories, but for the sake of practicality, your subconscious mind is anything your conscious mind could potentially become aware of, but currently isn’t (Ex. childhood memories, answer to a question, all the stuff happening around you at this moment that you must ignore in order to read.) Then there is your unconscious mind, which is all the parts of your intelligence that your conscious mind has no access to at all (Ex. Your cells dividing, your heart pumping, your converting light into images, etc.)
The Cocktail Party Effect highlights some interesting properties of the interplay between these three systems. Your conscious mind has programmed your unconscious mind to react to whatever your name is in a reflective way that requires no conscious awareness. Since your unconscious mind is now programmed to care about this arbitrary sound, your subconscious is now constantly scanning your environment for this stimuli.
This is massively important.
It demonstrates that you indeed can program your unconscious, which programs your subconscious to act in a way beneficial to your conscious mind (you’re invested in being aware when you’re being talked about.)
This is the science behind “The Secret.” If you spend concerted time and effort using your conscious mind to tell your unconscious mind what is important to it, your unconscious mind primes your subconscious mind to alert you when someone of interest to your goal or desire is in your environment.
(This process doesn’t magically attraction a mansion into your life, but it will make you more aware of opportunities that, if acted upon skillfully, can improve your chance of manifesting the dream you consciously primed your unconscious to care about.)
Taking a Step Back
All of us, throughout our lives, have been programming our unconscious mind. However, we’ve been poor masters. Most of this programming has happened on autopilot, influenced by our parents, our friends, our teachers, our coaches, and our culture.
Our orienting system is likely all kinds of fucked up, programmed to be interested in multiple, often conflicting, goals. This is like a country without a constitution, a company without a vision, a kingdom without a king.
We begin to unify our orienting system by creating, articulating, and repeating our life purpose.
Our life purpose serves as the unifying filter for our orienting system. With an articulated life purpose, we prime our unconscious and subconscious to scan the environment for any piece of information that may help us on our journey. It changes the way we literally perceive reality. It changes the way we talk to people, the habits we act out, and the choices we make in the heat of the moment.
If you’re interested in how to find and articulate your purpose (yeah, you get to choose it), I’ve written at length about it here.
Meditation Improves Our Orienting Effectiveness
Once we’ve primed our orienting system to alert us when something helpful or interesting to our life purpose enters our environment, meditation can improve how well our orienting system works.
Researchers have found that people who consistently practice meditation are better able to detect a meaningful sound through a jumble of chaos sounds. This may seem like an insignificant finding, but it’s scientific evidence of an improved orienting response (source).
Meditation improves our ability to notice when Hermes’s winged shoes reflect the divine spark back to us.
So, how can you start getting this benefit?
How Should I Meditate?
Keep it simple. First thing when you wake up, set a timer for 5 minutes. Sit in whatever position is comfortable (I prefer position 4 with a pillow underneath instead of a stool.)
Choose to attempt to keep your awareness on the sensation of breathing.
Within seconds, you’ll notice you’ve began thinking about something. Your awareness has slipped from your breath into this thought stream.
This is actually the most important part of meditation. When you’ve noticed your awareness has slipped away, gently note what thought took you away (example: planning, back pain, last night’s dinner,) and return awareness to your breath.
This is it! It is that simple, and that devastatingly difficult.
The nature of (a part) of your mind is to produce thoughts as relentless as your heart beats. It is like an advisor to the King who is neurotically trying to offer the King advice. Before meditating, you’ll be unaware of how often you let this advisor determine how you rule. With a meditation practice, you begin to see that the advisor is insane, but genuine, and that you should be much more discriminate about which thoughts you accept to influence how you rule.
This ability to recognize which thoughts are worth your attachment, seems to be the same brain function that helps us not instinctually react to the maelstrom of push notifications that scream for our primordial threat detection program to activate.
More Meditation Research
If you’re slightly insane like I am, and you want to review over 50 of the best studies looking at the benefits of meditation, I’ve created just such an article.
I truly think meditation is THE Metaprogramming foundation habit. Love you and Namasteezy.